Cable TV has been happy to answer with shows like "How It's Made" and "Unwrapped." The Travel Channel combines that curiosity about manufacturing with a well-developed sense of national pride in the four-disc John Ratzenberger's Made in America, Season 1.
Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin from "Cheers") travels the country examining American-made brands while opining on how great it is to be American himself.
In fact, his rampant patriotism is almost cause for alarm, as it seems only a foreign agent, sent to destroy these United States, would make as big a fuss about Americanism.
It's not helped, either, that Ratzenberger has latched on to some pretty annoying traits: mushy sentimentality about almost anything, a corny sense of humor that grates and a propensity to cock his head and wink at the camera.
The worst moments are when it seems he's trying to get a job as a spokesman. He REALLY likes Campbell's Soup. Harleys are THE FINEST motorcycles around. It's like Ratzenberger is auditioning for a commercial half the time.
The show is often enjoyable despite the host's presence, because what's really interesting is seeing the production of Crayola Crayons, Louisville Sluggers and American currency.
He has his moments, though, especially when he draws upon his much more engaging know-it-all character that made him famous. In the Gatorade science lab, he takes the opportunity of an athlete who must stay on a stationary bike for an hour to bore the man with stories of a bicycle tour he once took.
For all the schmaltz and the groan-worthy lines, it's an interesting – if simple – show that provides plenty of noteworthy information. Oddly enough, some of the best segments are done in voice-over by Ratzenberger with no direct interviews, such as his overview of Pan-Am's famed Clipper planes.
Shot in full-screen 1.33:1 ratio, Made in America is no feast for the eyes, but it's not root canal surgery, either. The direction wavers between sloppy and extra-focused, giving the show a schizophrenic quality in places. Regardless, when the cameras point to the men and machines making Gibson guitars, it's riveting.
Dolby Digital stereo is used to no great effect. It's a TV show and despite some varied locales, the sound stays steady, if uninteresting.
There are no extras in the set. No insert. Not even a scene selection within the episodes. In fact, you can only fast forward through the intro – there are no scene breaks to skip to.
If you can put up with a host determined to use humor that even your grandparents will find bland and a bit disingenuous, John Ratzenberger's Made in America, Season 1 is an informative and interesting look at products manufactured in America. It's Recommended, but beware the shmaltz.